KUMAMOTO: Torrential rain hampered the efforts of tens of thousands of rescue workers in southwestern Japan on Monday as they hunted for survivors from deadly floods and landslides, with more downpours forecast.
Around 50 people were feared dead after heavy rain lashed areas of western Japan from early on Saturday, causing rivers to burst their banks and flood low-lying regions.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned the weather front was heading across the country, predicting “heavy rain over a wide area” and urging people to “take action to protect their lives”. In the worst-affected region of Kumamoto, bad weather was preventing some rescue efforts, local officials said, with at least 13 people still unaccounted for.
“Because of the heavy rain, we were forced to cancel some emergency flights of helicopters over the disaster zone,” local disaster management official Tsubasa Miyamoto said.
Yutaro Hamasaki, another local official, said: “Military personnel and police continued search throughout the night in rain. Firefighters and other officials will joint rescue operations after daybreak.” The floods washed away roads and bridges, cutting off many isolated communities cut off.
A local firefighter in the western region of Kagoshima said they used boats to rescue 11 people, but conditions were making it hard to reach others stranded.
“Calls came from people telling us that they wanted to flee their home but they could not do it on their own,” he said.
“Some roads are submerged and you cannot drive through them.” In one of the hardest-hit areas, residents wrote out the words “rice, water, SOS” on the ground, while others waved towels and called for rescue and relief goods.
At a nursing home for the elderly, 14 people were confirmed dead on Monday, officials said, after water from a nearby river inundated the ground floor, leaving those in wheelchairs unable to reach higher ground.
Emergency services, aided by locals in rafts, managed to rescue around 50 residents and staff from the facility, bringing them to safety by boat.
Heavy rain is expected to continue through Tuesday afternoon and the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a non-compulsory evacuation order for around half a million people in southwestern Japan.
“It’s such a mess,” resident Hirotoshi Nishi told public broadcaster NHK as he swept debris from his mud-strewn front room. “Many pieces of wood came into my house. I don’t know what to do.”
Evacuation efforts are also hampered by fears of spreading the coronavirus that has killed almost 1,000 people in Japan, from close to 20,000 cases.
Partitions have been set up at evacuation centres to keep distances between families, and evacuees are made to wash their hands frequently, sanitise and wear face masks.
As night fell, a JMA official told reporters: “In some cases, it can be more dangerous to go to shelters (than to stay at home).” “We ask people to assess their situations, especially when it gets dark outside,” he added, referring to the regions of Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Saga.
For some local business owners already battered by coronavirus, the natural disaster has compounded their problems.
Yuji Hashimoto, who runs a tourism bureau in the hot-spring resort in Yatsushiro, one of the flood-hit cities in Kumamoto, said that the “beautiful tourism spot dramatically changed overnight”.
Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2020